We expect what we are good at, what we have grace for, what God has worked in us. To place it on another person and especially our spouse, is unfair and lacks grace. It turns into a demand. It works with the merit system, not the mercy system. A true servant completes what another person lacks rather than placing unkind expectations upon him or her.

When you say that something is not fair, what you are asking for is justice. And justice operates in a legal system, not in an atmosphere of grace. You end up competing with one another rather than completing one another, the opposite of a Christ-centered marriage. We are called to lay down our lives, not to impose expectations in areas that we function well in.


We are telling our partner to be like us, to perform the way we do. Wait a minute. Don’t opposites attract? Don’t we want someone who is different, who comes to the marriage with strengths that we lack, so we can serve one another, so the other person’s weaknesses can be accommodated because we have the appropriate strengths? But to expect our partner to be like us, to perform as we do–hey, are you sure you want to be married? (Crazy–found myself doing it early in our marriage).

Wouldn’t you rather be the answer to your spouse’s dream than create a nightmare? What does your spouse long for? Does he or she have a dream yet to be fulfilled? What if your strengths were able to facilitate that dream coming true? You would be loved the rest of your life for your kindness. If, on the other hand, your expectation turns into a demand, you are killing the dream– and maybe the marriage. Good luck!


It’s all about you, not the team. You become a victim, not a victor. You can only talk about what you need, what you want, what you deserve (whoa! That is a word for people under the law).

A legal system will deteriorate quickly, because it removes service from the relationship and inserts the law–this is what you must do for me. This is what I need from you. This is how you can make me happy. Can you hear how self-centered that is? Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…” not enjoy himself, coddle himself, or serve himself. Demand is at the opposite end of discipleship. It does not belong in a marriage. That is why I say, “Write down all your expectations, then throw them away.”

Turn civil rights into civil responsibilities. And his or her responsibilities do NOT become your rights. We don’t meet at the table of negotiation and say, “I’ll do this if you will do that.” We simply agree to go the way of the cross. And if our partner is struggling at some point to go that way, we choose to serve even more, to take up our cross rather than demanding that he or she takes up his or hers. It is the Christlike way. And it makes the marriage a romance, like the Romance of the Ages! Grace instead of law, mercy instead of merit!


My recent blog, “7 Ways to Make Her Glad She Married You,” connected. Lots of affirmation. One of the readers asked,  “How about if Karen writes to the women?” I responded: “Great idea.” I quickly wrote her side, gave it to her, and said she could use what she wanted and scrap the rest, hoping she would leave it intact. She took most of the headers but dropped the majority of the content. She wrote in her comments with arrows, circled words, marginal notes, and hieroglyphics. I tried hard to make sense out of each point, which had all been reassigned a new number.

Karen decided to come to my study after 9 PM and talk it through. Big mistake. Halfway into the “discussion,” I determined this was a really bad idea. I had done this kind of editing before. We’re never done. I would call it double-mindedness; she would call it improving. We sat together with her explaining the many new corrections and me getting more frustrated by the minute. I finally pretty much shut down. I was operating in submissive compliance, figuring this project was bombing. With each new addition I inwardly moaned, unable to give verbal hope to what she was less and less excited about, because her husband was a zombie. But she continued to work.

The irony was the name of the blog: “7 Ways to Make Him Glad He Married You.” I had seven current reasons why I wasn’t glad at that moment. Karen was doing what I had seen her doing with me many times before–changing another word, replacing one phrase with a better one, coming up with a fresh Bible verse. I finally announced that I was going to bed. We could finish in the morning.

When it arrived, I felt like I had rebooted my mind. I was thinking fresh and had new hope. I read through what was accomplished through much stress and resistance the night before and decided it wasn’t that bad. I gave her the newest copy and said I thought it could be a go. She said something on how the evening time was about as miserable as it could have been. I told her that I thought it was a bad idea–but not anymore. She again commented on my shutdown-ness. I agreed.

She let the article pass with no more corrections. Major surprise. I thought we might be in for another grueling session. Off it went to the public for their assessment. Three minutes in came the first response. Then others right behind. By afternoon I was wondering if her article would become the biggest hitter in three years of blogging. By evening she had received thirteen verbal responses, mainly from women, but several men chimed in with, “Bravo, Karen.” Many women were grateful to hear wisdom from “the other side.”

Karen and I laughed on our way to Erikka’s house that night about the irony of the subject. It could have been, “7 Reasons Why I Can’t Stand My Husband.” We decided that this thing called marriage takes a lot of work, even more patience, plus the grace of God! Do I hear an “AMEN?!”


I had my chance. Now it’s Karen’s turn to talk about married life. Go ahead, Karen!


Paul is encouraged that I have my own time with the Lord. I don’t rely on him to keep me close to God. I spend time in His Word. I always have loved the Psalms and every Scripture for the day is fresh manna. It is my anchor in life. The Scriptures speak to me, and I often share what I get. I caught on from parents who read the Scriptures daily. Their good example and my husband’s have helped to keep me going.


That was a quote from Alma Hagen, my mom’s best friend. They sure have been a wonderful example to me of joy and cheerfulness. Sometimes couples get way too serious. When laughter goes, so does a healthy marriage. We laugh at ourselves and we laugh together. I love seeing and hearing Paul laugh. It is not only good medicine–it is catchy.


not the worst. My mother used to say, “Put the best construction on all that people say or do.” “In humility count others as better than yourself” (Philippians 2:3). I’d rather believe the best and trust him. His heart is for me. Being positive is so much better than being negative. Thinking negative is insulting to a mate and to the Lord.


Love does not keep account of wrong. When a negative past comes up, don’t use the words, “You always” or “you never…” Remember that the Lord forgives and doesn’t hold things against us. We need to forgive as He forgives. We practice that often. Got to.


even when you don’t feel like it. “It is better to give than to receive.” It’s an honor to be married to Paul and work as a team. I love serving him because he is willing to serve me. When I need him because many people are coming to the house, he steps up. Why wouldn’t I do the same? It is good for us to ask each other, “How can I help?”


God’s perfect love casts out fear. Period! That can work if you don’t allow your own heart to reject that love. You need to receive it and trust Him for the rest.


Expect much from the Lord! Expectations from others easily turn into demands. Lighten up and together look to the Lord! Expectations put upon God are NEVER disappointed!



Many men quit. Creates lonely wives. Glad someone told me to date Karen. Even when we were having kids, lots of them, we managed to get away for a walk. One rule: no talking business. Now it’s a bigger deal. I am careful about spending money. Dates are an exception. Out of 52 weeks we manage 46 dates on the average. Helps to keep the fire burning. One guy described his marriage as a hot bath–just keeps cooling off. Hey Pardner, ever heard of romance?


Champion her cause, even if it’s not yours. She needs your vote. Let her know you are for her. She wants affirmation more than advice. The more you support her the more she will support you. Marriage is not two people doing their own thing. If she doesn’t feel your support, she will quit talking. Not a good thing. Everyone has a cause. Fight for hers. You’re on the same team.


I learned the hard way. I told engaged couples, “Don’t get hitched at the altar if you have the itch to alter.” Then I got married. I didn’t heed my own counsel. It doesn’t feel good for a wife to feel like his agenda is to change her. When I finally realized what I was doing, I acknowledged it, said I wouldn’t do it anymore–and I don’t. I married her to love her, not to change her. What an insult! God forgave me and so did she. Now I change me and love her.


It is not the same as changing, but it feels similar. A lot of controlling people in marriages. I hope you’re not one of them. Even God doesn’t control me. He influences me through love. He is the most powerful person in the universe–and the least controlling. Satan wants to control us. Does that give you a clue?


I finally learned this. It was the best advice I ever received. It came from Jesus to would-be disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” I take it seriously. I die to myself for my wife. Karen is grateful, because I have learned to serve her rather than expecting her to serve me. I have made it one of my highest goals–to lay down my life for my wife. I got a late start, but I’m getting there.


Hard to do but worth learning. I needed to adjust and quit being defensive. It was getting me into difficulty way too often. In my old age I have come to the place where it is hard for Karen to offend me. Not a bad way to live. Can’t say that about the early years. Better than being touchy about everything and reacting rather than responding. To do it well, you need a good forgiver.

Time says, “I love you.” Time says, “You’re worth every minute.” If you are rushing, she knows you are just waiting to get to your own special hobby, and she comes in second. Treat her as an equal and she’ll treat you with respect.  “The heart of her husband trust in her” (Prov. 31:11). So go home and be fun to live with.



Marriage problems are not usually marriage problems–they are character issues. If you take up offenses, you will probably do it at work, in your marriage, at your church. Do you see a marriage counselor for it? You could, but you’d do better to deal with your offendable heart. Most issues that come up in a marriage can be dealt with by surrendering more fully to the Lordship of Christ and asking the Holy Spirit to work His character in you.

Marriage is not for eternity. It is what God has provide for our time on this earth–for relationship, intimacy, and the procreation of the race. No more procreation in the new earth, the Bridegroom of us all is Jesus, and the honeymoon lasts for ever.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t work on our marriage, but the way we do it is important. It is seldom a specifically marriage problem. Almost always it relates to an issue God is putting focus on so we can grow up in God. This helps us not to say, “If he would only pick up his clothes,” or “If she would only quit nagging…” Instead, we can say, “What can I be working on because of this conflict? Where do I need to change?” You probably don’t need a marriage counselor. You more likely need a change in your attitude or behavior.

Does this belittle the importance of marriage? No. It was the first institution created. It answered to Adam’s loneliness. It brought two very different people together–a man and a woman. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” (Genesis 1:28). Marriage is God’s provision for our days upon this earth.

Understanding this temporal relationship could head off some divorces: “I can’t live with this woman. She is driving me crazy.” Okay, change how respond to her. Learn to forgive. Reconstruct a thankful heart. Like the plaque says, “People aren’t thankful because they are happy. They are happy because they are thankful.”Your issue is probably not related to your marriage; it is related to you. The one constant in all your problems, whether at work or in your marriage–is you. There you are again.

We need to normalize conflict. We are not surprised when the world or a spouse does not treat us like we’re a superstar. A guy comes home and complains about an overbearing boss. Surprise! Is that a work-related problem? No, it is a life-related problem. This guy needs to learn how to live with people he doesn’t like. Peter would tell him that it is an issue of submission, not something he takes to human resources. An attitude needs to change in him, not his boss. Problems are gifts from God to help us develop character, whether on the job or in a marriage. We are training for the new earth.

And just so you know–how we live here impacts how we will live in eternity. There is something called rewards. It gives us incentives to change, to learn how to live above offense, to develop a good forgiver, to practice the art of thanking rather than nagging. Character is worth going after!


You were good-looking when we married August 22, 1975. You still are. Your beauty runs deep. Your life is beautiful to watch. I appreciate the way you love your parents, your siblings, children, grandchildren, me. The legacy is moving forward. You have helped to shape children whose lives also speak of beauty. They still enjoy spending time with you, because you are a giver, not a taker. You add to their life. Your girls especially look to you, learn from you, laugh with you, trade stories.

You have added beauty to my life. You have slowed me down. I see more when going twenty miles an hour rather than sixty–and get fewer tickets. I am much better off for having married you. I thought I was a musician, but you have enriched our lives by singing your prayers, singing prophetic words, singing in the car, singing table grace, singing in the Spirit. I get choked up when I hear the solos of a young Karen. It is so beautiful that I cry. God made you a singer–I am the benefactor!

You have added an international component to our family life. You are more Japanese than American. Americans are “those people.” I still enjoy telling people that I married a Japanese. “Funny, she doesn’t look Japanese.”

You have loved your parents well. Go ahead and claim the promise of a long and good life (Ephesians 6:3). You honor them, enjoy them, show gratitude for their sacrificial life, care for them, call them, and pray often for them. They love being around you, because you serve them well, laugh at your dad’s jokes, and appreciate your mom’s grace and kindness.

You give people the gift of time. When I am done in an hour, you are ready to go for two. You don’t watch the clock. You don’t even know what time it is. You use the calendar more than the clock. That makes me proud of you–and nervous when it’s time to board. We haven’t missed a single flight, but we’ve come close! I’m glad you’re not like me–most of the time.

I am amazed that you didn’t complain when I left for church at 7 AM on Sunday mornings–leaving a houseful of kids. I was an idiot. You were a mother. Thank you for the many times you had to put up with my inconsistencies. I thought I was doing right. Wrong! Being religious and being right are often quite different.

Things improved in our life together when I quit trying to change you and began to better love you and appreciate who you were. I am thankful that I have finally learned how to live above offense. (Well, most of the time).

You both root for me and stand up to me. If you are at a different place, I hear about it. Better than stuffing it and taking it out in a different way. Thank you for being truthful, loyal, absolutely trustworthy–and fun.

We have had a really rich life–to this point. At 73 and 68, this is the oldest we’ve been so far. I have this crazy feeling that it’s going to get even better. Fasten your seat belt. I think we’re in for an exciting ride. Happy 42nd anniversary, dearest Karen! Thankful that you said yes–through the tears.                    

Much love to you,  Paul



I find myself presently dealing with six marriages on the rocks. Some have hope, others lost it. Two have used the “d” word. I am trying to believe for them, when they are unable to believe for themselves. Rebuilding a broken marriage is no piece of cake. Takes work that some find daunting.

On the other side of the fence are single people who desperately want to be married. “Desperately” may not be a strong enough word. They look at couples enjoying life, having kids, doing the fun things families do, like going on vacations or watching a movie together. They know that they are meant to be married. Ouch. I tell singles, afraid that they may have the the gift of celibacy, “If you want to be married, you don’t have it.” Celibacy is for people who are called to it and rejoice in it (maybe).

So what I say to people on both sides of the fence: Life is not found in marriage or in the single life. People who are sad but know that once they get married all that will change could be in for a surprise. Singles who put all their marbles in the marriage basket better not leave them there if they get married. It would be too oppressive for their spouse.

I encourage engaged couples to write down their five biggest expectations for marriage, then throw them away. All too easy for an expectation to become a silent (or vocal) mandate for the partner: “You must do this for me to be happily married.” Rather than writing down expectations, try this: “Here are the five things I will do for you to make this marriage thrive.” A lifetime guarantee accompanies that posturing.

Not that I don’t understand the struggle of a single person desiring a spouse, a family, a legacy. But I still say, “Center your life on God. Be the best single person you can be. Paul regards it as a preferable station in life for people who want to have influence with others. The two most prominent people in the Bible were single. I know some single people who would make wonderful spouses but who chose to give their life away–like many missionaries have done.

They are champions, and their joy in eternity will mask any disappointment they may have felt in this life. They denied themselves, took up their cross, and followed Jesus. Instead of living in painful regret for what they didn’t have, they poured their life out and influenced many, something they probably could not have done the same way as married people. Paul writes like he understands: “Those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that” (I Cor. 7:28).

Likewise, I understand why marriage takes work. I failed as a young married man to give proper understanding to a young mother attempting to raise children with a religious husband. She forgave me. So Karen and I fight for marriages. God is a healing God. Bottom line: wherever you are, whatever you are–center your life in God.


The strongest words on marriage in the Bible come from Jesus. He was coming under attack from leaders looking for loopholes. They didn’t find any. Here’s what Jesus said: “’Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’” (Matthew 19:4-6).  

Haven’t you read…?  Who can know God’s thoughts and ways? Those who can read. The Pharisees were ignoring the first two chapters in the Bible. The life God offers is not meant for the spiritually elite. It’s for readers, humble enough to recognize the Creator behind the creation. Want to know how God defines marriage? Want to know the perimeters of sex? Ask someone at the U. of MN? No.  Read the Book!

At the beginning… Christ’s outlook was not some new idea. It started when God called stars into being.  “At the beginning” means that the love of a man and woman is rooted in history. It’s not the latest idea. A young couple joins countless men and women who are doing marriage God’s way. The song, “I did it my way,” has nothing to do with life in God.

The Creator made them male and female.  Jesus takes us back to Genesis 1: “Go God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (27). Every human is created to reflect the likeness of God. And because God’s image is reflected differently from a woman than a man, their union causes God’s image to shine with even greater luster.  

The Bible says that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. If that is not your understanding, God still loves you. But the creator of the human race gets to decide what marriage is.

For this cause…God works on purpose. Creation reflects intelligent design, whether examining a Minnesota dragonfly or thinking about a billion galaxies. God has purpose in keeping a man and woman together for a lifetime. It builds a strong church and impacts society. Destroy the family and annihilate the culture.

And the two will become one flesh.  Sex is God’s idea. Embrace it God’s way and enjoy. Outside of marriage sex disorients and destroys. God’s first command, “Be fruitful and multiply” (1:28), comes to a man and a woman, committed for life.  Sex is for procreation and recreation.

What God has joined together…What if love wanes?  Behind our love stands the sovereign purposes of God. He protects this first institution of the race. When half the marriages are ending, we need God’s plan. A couple is committed not until love ends but until life ends—because God stands above the marriage!

…let not man separate. God puts up His two hands at a wedding and says, “I am making them one. Stay out!”  Marriage needs to be protected from people who will use puny excuses to break it apart. We are keeping our marriage together for ourselves and for the preservation of society.



I’ve been saying these things for years. Either they are brilliant, or I am stupid. Judging from a marriage that keeps getting better after 42 years, I may not be missing by much. They have helped some couples to navigate the narrows of a struggling marriage.

Husbands, don’t use the “s” word.

When I have known of men telling their wives to submit, it came from guys who were not leading  lovingly. They were requiring something of their wives while renegging on their responsibility. I told Israel and Johanna when they got married that his responsibility was not her right, and vice versa, meaning that he could not call her out on her lack of submission and she could not correct him on his lack of love. They could only increase the strength of their own responsibility and ask God to change their spouse. What does Jesus do for His struggling Bride? He lays down His life (Ephesians 5).

Don’t change your spouse.

Love changes people–criticism doesn’t. In other words, don’t get hitched at the altar with the itch to alter. I disregarded this after saying, “I do.” Didn’t work. Doesn’t feel good to have a spouse trying to control you. Your issue is your issue–not your spouse’s, whether it is 10% or 80% of the marriage problem.  Do your part without telling your spouse to do his or hers. Instead of trying to change each other, we pray regularly together–and God changes us!

Gentleness works.

It sometimes wears off after a few years, and couples deal with each other harshly. ”Don’t wear that ugly jacket” might not work as well as, “You look great in everything you wear, but this one might fit even better.” Words matter. Gentleness is the way of God, even with people who  don’t believe that He exists.

Love lasts–if you keep loving.

Dates work great for us. I keep pursuing Karen, like I did when we were dating. You schedule what is important to you. Meetings push out our dates about one time a year. It is high priority. We try not to address issues during the day of a date that could be controversial. It has worked wonderfully for us. Our kids agree and are now doing it with their mates, though it poses a major challenge with four little people in the house.

Be accountable.

I have a friend with whom I walk in the light. Karen and I hold each other accountable in a general sort of way, but Gary holds me accountable in a guy sort of way. We call each other regularly for prayer and counsel. I need that to stay sharp and focused. If I were an expert at marriage, I could do it on my own. Few can, and that probably doesn’t include you.

Laugh a lot,

especially at yourself. You’re weird, and your spouse likely is too. Karen and I laugh at the things we do. If you are not laughing, you are in trouble. It is both a symptom and a cause. Lighten up. If you can’t, get counseling. If you’re not having fun, something has died.  Relight the flame!



It came in the words of Jesus, not to married people but to disciples: “If any come come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” A great and profound word.



It is not about me, my enjoyment, my rights, my issues. If I am criticized, I am not going to take up an offense. I don’t deny myself things, I deny myself.  Jesus said in effect, “Go ahead; lose your life. Then you will find it.”


To deny yourself is to deny the part of you that has never been your friend and never brought you lasting hope. It is to deny the part of you with an appetite for self-indulgence and self-protection.


  1. I choose to respond rather than react. I deny myself the right to be right.
  2. I choose to deny myself instead of thinking that I owe it to myself. I am not a victim, and others do not owe me anything, but I owe God everything.
  3. I choose to take the low road of humility rather than the high road of pride. I deny myself the right to be the center of attention, and I will be quick to forgive.
  4. I choose delayed gratification rather than instant pleasure. The Holy Spirit will produce joy in my life if I do not set joy as a personal right.



When Jesus talks about crosses, they are not jewelry; they are instruments of death. There is no greater freedom than the freedom of death. Dying is how maturing Christians live.


  1. I take up my cross by choosing to accept pain now, knowing it will bring pleasure later.
  2. I take up my cross by not interpreting pain as the absence of God. I will often sense His presence more strongly when I suffer. I will not be surprised when I go through trials.
  3. I take up my cross by learning to die daily to selfish emotions that want to be understood more than understanding, that want to be heard more than hearing.



To follow Jesus is literal. It is not to ask, “What would Jesus do?” but “What is Jesus doing?” To follow Jesus means to focus on Him, to obey Him, and to be led by Him. To follow Jesus is to turn from following empty dreams and illusionary passions.


  1. I follow Jesus by choosing to love righteousness and hate wickedness rather than to be fascinated by sin.
  2. I follow Jesus by living for others. I choose to ask others how they are rather than expecting them to ask me.
  3. I follow Jesus by overcoming evil with good rather than returning evil with evil.
  4. I follow Jesus by choosing to love when it is not returned and by forgiving when people are not ready to confess.
  5. I follow Jesus by finding my identity in the Father’s love as He did. I do not need the affirmation of others to establish my identity.
  6. I follow Jesus by acknowledging that the kingdom of God is not in full operation until Jesus returns as King of the earth. I am not surprised by tension, by unrealized expectations. I pray for healing, expecting it to break through, but I will not become disillusioned as I wait for it to happen. I trust God, even when it looks like He is not answering.
  7. I follow Jesus by maintaining an attitude of thankfulness in the midst of difficulty. I will not allow myself the right to complain as if I deserve better.